The theme of this year’s Peer Review Week is “Trust in Peer Review.” Trust is central to peer review, because it’s traditionally been a closed process with the specifics hidden from public view. This trust is based on a lot of assumptions: that the editor selected appropriate, non-conflicted reviewers; that the reviewers were thorough; that the authors addressed any concerns; and that the editors and reviewers ensured their revisions were responsive. There are many more assumptions that are made about what went on during any particular peer review, but the quality of the process is revealed in the published article. When the article is good, the assumptions are validated. And when significant problems are discovered in an article after publication, well… what’s that saying about what happens when we assume?
Peer review will likely always rely on some assumptions, but the push to make peer review more transparent may make that trust easier to accept. As I wrote last year in a Viewpoint, transparent peer review (TPR; ie, publishing reviewer comments and author responses with an article) is gaining acceptance and becoming more common. For journals who may be interested in TPR, Marc Domingo and Simon Harris provide a blueprint for implementing it in their recent article, Transparent Peer Review—A Practical Solution to Implement Open Peer Review at Scale: A Case Study. Even if their exact workflow isn’t for your journal, they provide a wealth of information and materials that can be applied to any TPR process. Being able to see exactly what reviewers critique and how authors respond won’t prevent some errors from slipping through, but it can help gird against accusations of a lax review process and provide valuable info about lapses in the process. Plus, knowing that their review will be published, even anonymously, may encourage some reviewers to be more thorough.
That editors are selecting reviewers from a pool of knowledgeable, engaged researchers is also an assumption needed to trust peer review. So it’s helpful to see initiatives such as the one described by Ruth Isaacson, Sarah Bay, and Megan McCarty at GENETICS in their recent article, Supporting the Next Generation of Researchers: GENETICS Peer Review Training Program. The team at GENETICS recognizes that to be a great reviewer you need to be trained, so they’ve developed a comprehensive program for doing just that and provided a framework for others to follow.
Finally, it takes great editors and staff to facilitate great peer review, as discussed in the recent profile of Jasmine Wallace, Peer Review Manager at the American Society for Microbiology, who spoke about her work “Mastering the Art and Science of Peer Review.” By highlighting the expertise and experience of editors and staff in these interviews and articles such as those noted above, I hope that Science Editor helps promote trust in transparent and reliable peer review.
Editor-in-Chief, Science Editor
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Registration is now open for the first-ever CSE 2020 Fall Virtual Symposium on October 19-20, 2020. It looks like it will be an exciting and timely program, with a general session of “Publishing Industry Climate Change” and concurrent sessions covering metrics, social media, equity, diversity, and inclusion, and much more. The Roundtable Discussion Forums should be quite engaging and be sure to check out the “Fire of the Year” Roundtable based on the Science Editor Fire of the Week column.
Call for Fall Virtual Symposium Reporters
As we do for the CSE Annual Meeting, Science Editor is inviting members to contribute to CSE by serving as a Meeting Reporter for the CSE 2020 Fall Virtual Symposium.
Reports on the CSE 2020 Fall Virtual Symposium are very important to the readers of Science Editor, especially those who cannot attend the meeting or a concurrent session. Serving as a Meeting Reporter is a great way for first-time attendees or newer members to become involved in CSE, an opportunity to communicate with speakers and moderators covering topics of interest, and a chance to have an article published in Science Editor.
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From the Archives
Another way to help train the next-generation of peer reviewers is described by Emma Shumeyko in her 2019 article, Engaging Early Career Scientists with Hands-On Peer Review: A Journal Review Club. These Journal Review Clubs were originally envisioned as in-person events, but they work virtually too and I hope some of you are inspired to try it out.
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With increased transparency of the peer review process, it may also be appropriate to make other aspects of editorial operations more open. In their article, Call for Transparency in Top Biomedical Journals’ Publication Practices, Shroyer and coauthors make the case that publishers and editorial offices should consider opening their de-identified author and/or publication databases to researchers and regularly reporting submission, acceptance, and demographic data.
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In the absence of information about the peer review process, when a terrible article manages to get published, it’s not surprising that readers look for any tidbit about what went wrong, scouring the article for clues of impropriety. Are the submitted and accepted dates too close together? Are the editor and authors connected by six degrees? Has the author published too much on this topic? Or not enough? While these bits can sometimes be important, they can also be distracting speculation that may nonetheless need to be responded to and addressed. The clearer and more open a journal’s peer review process and policies are, the easier it can be to trust the process and the people working it improve it.
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